Wednesday, February 9, 2011

S/T, James Blake (2011)

What exactly is dubstep? How is it defined? Personally, I'm not fully sure. I read the definitions, I've listened to dubstep artists... but, in the end, it sounds a lot like a garage band doing remixes. There is something lo-fi to the mixing of the track. Maybe this is dubstep. Or, maybe I'm way off. But, a lot of reviewers are referring to James Blake as an singer/songwriter using dubstep. And, I feel lo-fi remixing is a lot of what James Blake has to offer.

If I had to compare James Blake's voice to someone, I'd have to say Antony Hagerty (of Antony and the Johnsons) meets Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver). There is something feminine, soft, and emotional to their sound. If I had to compare the music of James Blake to another artist, I would have to jump straight to How to Dress Well. Both bands deal with emotional lyrics in an R&B style with a bit of a remix. In the case of Blake, the remix is a lot more prominent. In fact, the remix is a lot of the point.

One could easily say James Blake is doing nothing new. He is singing sad songs in a very singer/songwriter style. All he is doing is adding something more to the music and lyrics. This could be the music of the sad white boy sitting in his basement trying to create something a little bit different. Something to get a little more attention. I think I'd take Blake either way. With the dubstep elements or without. There is something genuine in his act.

On Blake's debut album, Blake covers Feist's "Limit to Your Love." The track appears about halfway through the album. It was a nice surprise to hear something so familiar. For the most part, the track starts out sounding like a straight forward remix. But, as Blake shows throughout this record, he likes to add textures and layers to his tracks.

The albums second track, "Wilhelms Screams," is the most beautiful track on the album. Quite possibly the most haunting song I've heard in quite a while. Blake's voice is downright pained and heartbreaking. I can't make it through the song without finding myself ready to cry.

"I Never Learnt to Share" sounds like an attempt at a Marvin Gaye-esque "What's Going On?" The R&B influence of the album is most noticeable during this track (and the final track, "Measurements"). The song only has one line: 'my brother and sister don't speak to me, but I don't blame them.' Has anyone every said so much by saying so little? The repetition doesn't grow boring. As I said before, Blake likes to mature his songs, add more sound as the song moves along. The music Blake continues to add to the track keeps one distracted enough from the repetition.

I can't say I adore this album the same way so many other people claim to love this album. There is something about the music that keeps me at a distance from the lyrics and the voice. The album has a lot of really strong moments, but contains its fill of weaker moments. Not an unpleasant experience, but not always even.


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